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How the Withdrawal of US Troops in Syria Impacted Regional Politics and Security

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As northern Syria attempts to adjust to life without US troops, which destabilized what was already considered a tenuous situation, the regional politics and security of the nation have been thrown into disarray with no sight of improvement. In addition to the civil war and refugee crisis, the nation has been an arena where world powers have been vying for a foothold in the Middle East for nearly a decade. With the abrupt shift in territorial control it has become apparent that due to its geographical location and political makeup, Syria is the subject of a custody battle with repercussions that extend far beyond its borders. 

In March of 2011, when peaceful protesters were brutalized for anti-government graffiti, Syria joined the Arab Spring movement sweeping across the Middle East. But unlike neighboring countries, whose own uprisings were brief and relatively non-violent, Syria was pulled into an outright civil war. Later that year, when more citizens were killed and tortured, the sentiment reached a critical mass. What complicated things in Syria, however, was not a more violent response by the national government – the Lybian leader Muammar al-Gaddafi didn’t hesitate in unleashing his military onto his citizens calling for social reform – but the unique nationalities and religions that make up the Syrian population. 

The kindling that sparked the civil war can be attributed to the large ethnic group known as the Kurds who, since the end of WWI when the winning side drew arbitrary borders that divided villages and townships, have remained nationless and spread across multiple countries including Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. The Kurds in Syria, who differ from those in Iraq and Turkey, became easy scapegoats when they formed a rebellion with the intent to not only fight back against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but to fight for land control they felt was long overdue. However, when the initial Kurdish rebellion fractured into nearly a dozen smaller groups, they became pawns that allowed world powers to engage in a proxy war. Though it’s impossible to predict who might fill the vacuum that was recently created by the withdrawal of American troops, there are some key players who are strategically postured to make a move

The war in Syria is comprised of three main groups which is why the situation is often a complex one to follow. After the first shots were fired, the Syrian government was immediately backed by long-time ally Iran, and eventually received military support from Russia. Saudi Arabia, who saw the rebellion as a means to counter Iran without starting a war on its own soil, sent funding and military arms to the Kurds. The US watched this localized fighting from afar until the decision was made to support Kurdish forces in an effort to defeat the newly emerged ISIS, or Islamic State, who threatened western civilization with extremist tactics such as chemical weapons. The third player to throw their hat into the proverbial ring was Turkey, who took the opportunity to wage war against their own Kurdish population whom they consider terrorists but who in reality have little connection to their Syrian counterparts. 

The status quo has been broken and already a trend of uncertainty and chaos has emerged. With the US no longer aligned with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Turkey was granted tacit permission to invade northern Syria. The Kurdish rebels are being forced to either flee the region or join Russian-backed Syrian forces to the south, leaving behind abandoned ISIS prisoners and further displacing overrun refugee camps. Although Russia may outwardly appear to be working against the Turkish government, recent delegations and official engagements suggest that an agreement might be in the works. It would make sense as Russia has a lot to gain by striking a peace deal between Turkey and Syria. Not only would it provide more access to the region through developed seaports but getting Turkey to move away from NATO would give Russia more status as a world power.

 In addition to wondering what comes next for Syria, the world is also left with the question of why the US so abruptly decided to pull its troops out of areas it has been defending for years.  Although this move seems sudden, there is a historical precedent that suggests it may have been long overdue. In 1947, barely two years after WWII ended, Britain found itself overextended and unable to effectively manage its global empire. Realizing it was financially impossible to maintain oversight of the region, the British government abdicated control to the US. Now, years later, America finds itself in a similar position, but without a viable candidate to hand things over to. While there is much to be said and plenty to criticize about how and why the decision was made, it’s hard to imagine there’s ever a ‘good time’ or ‘right way’ to exit the Middle Eastern crisis. 

Although there’s no way to predict what Syria’s future looks like, there are a few variables the move has cemented into place. Firstly, the US has all but permanently severed ties with the Kurds and rebellion forces, making it unlikely the abandoned populace will place its trust another super-power anytime soon. Secondly, the Russian government’s influence will no doubt throw a spanner in the works, and stability in the region seems to be far fetched. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the ISIS and other extremist groups have threatened to resurge and create further instability in already unstable country. With the Turkish Kurds being forced to move south, and the Syrian Kurds involuntarily enlisted into Assad’s regime, they are prime recruits for any movement that can convince the world it is less extreme than the current governments of Syria, Russia, or Turkey. 

Sadly, the one fact that has not changed is that more innocent lives will continue to be lost, and the world will continue to face the refugee crises. European countries who amended immigration policy in response to the crisis have maxed out their ability to assimilate them into society. Without proper management and oversight, this could be the set-up for history to repeat itself. A large population of disenfranchised individuals who feel their land and their rights have been taken away from them is the definition of what started the Arab Spring. Whether with words or with weapons, the fighting will continue until a nation (or collective of nations) with direct experience and understanding of the problem, as well as a personal stake in the availability of oil, steps in with the intention of eventually stepping out. 

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Defense

Lithuania: To serve or not to serve in the army

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source: flickr.com

It is well known that in 2015 Lithuanian authorities reintroduced compulsory military service due to the potential threat caused by the Russian Federation.

It should be said, that young Lithuanians do not appreciate the idea and try to avoid the service in every possible way. They even are not afraid of penalties and imprisonment.

In order to force them to serve Lithuanian authorities are inventing new “tools” to make the process of avoidance the conscription harder.

From the beginning of 2015 all Lithuanian men aged 19-26 had to perform compulsory military service in the Lithuanian Armed Forces for a period of 9 months if fate decided.

The matter is the way of choosing the men who will serve is more than surprising. They say that 2 percent of men are randomly selected to complete vacancies in the army within the year. The lists of military conscripts then are published on the Internet. But “randomly” could also mean “nobody knows how they are selected.”

At the beginning of this year authorities lowered the age range at which men are called up for mandatory military service to 18-23 years and banned volunteer soldiers from holding seats in the parliament and municipal councils.

Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis said that the aim of lowering the conscription age is to ensure that conscripts’ military service causes the minimum possible disruption to their civilian lives.

The matter is the way of choosing the men who will serve is more than surprising. They say that 2 percent of men are randomly selected to complete vacancies in the army within the year. The lists of military conscripts then are published on the Internet. But “randomly” could also mean “nobody knows how they are selected.”

In reality the Ministry of National Defence can’t meet its recruitment goals.

The system includes Lithuanians living abroad who are forced to leave their home and come back for the service. The government of Lithuania doesn’t care that men living overseas have their personal life, own career paths and financial responsibilities.

The military authorities are trying to take immigrants for service on purpose, not caring about their personal problems, including health issues and financial commitments.

They also discriminate homosexual men by giving them specific tests to find out how gay they are, including a talk with the psychiatrist. Because homosexuality is still a sickness in Lithuania, with existing laws against gay people.

A lot of Lithuania men who decided not to come back for the service, are often wanted by police, and in some circumstances might end up in prison for up to 3 years.

Thus, in December 2019, 24-year-old Marius H. from Kedainiai was prosecuted for not visiting the military registration and enlistment office, but did not change his position. He said later that he would not go to serve, it is not in his interests. He has a well-paid job in Belgium and is not going to change his way of life. So he paid penalty (800 euros) and left for Belgium. And he is not the only one in the country who has made such choice.

Evidently, it is impossible to solve the problem in that way, using methods of coercion and punishment. Unfortunately, reintroducing of compulsory military service was the decision of the authorities, finding the ways to avoid it is the choice of youth. If the government doesn’t respect the citizens, the citizens have a right not to obey their decisions.

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Defense

Assessing India’s Enhanced Air Defence Shield with reference to Pakistan’s MIRV Capabilities

Haris Bilal Malik

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Since the last few years, India has been continuously carrying out an extensive military modernization program aimed at enhancing its counterforce capabilities vis-à-vis Pakistan. Under this notion, one of its most important components is the enhancement of its air defence capabilities aimed at providing an extensive multi-layered air defence shield. This has been done partly by combining indigenously developed systems with some of the world’s most expensive and advanced Missile Defence Systems which India has been purchasing over the last few years. Pakistan, due to its economic constraints cannot compete with India on a tit for tat basis. Hence, to address such a threat, Pakistan, for the time being, seems to be enhancing its indigenously developed Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) capabilities. These, in turn, are aimed at accurately penetrating the Indian Air Defense network that is being currently developed, by swarming it with a plethora of smarter and precision-based warheads to devastating effect.

At present, India possesses and intends to acquire various air defence systems in its missile defence inventory.  These include indigenously developed ballistic missile defence systems such as the Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) missiles, the Advanced Air Defence (AAD) Ashwin missiles and the Barak-8 missile defence system which has been jointly developed with Israel. Furthermore, to enhance its future capabilities, India had also signed an agreement with Russia for the acquisition of the S-400 anti-missile system back in October 2018, the delivery of which is expected in October this year. In another significant development, India reportedly intends to acquire the ‘National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System-II (NASAMS-II), a medium-range missile system from the US. India’s acquisition of advanced missile defence systems such as these would thus likely destabilize the pre-existing deterrence framework in South Asia, as it would embolden India to consider countering Pakistan’s existing range of warhead delivery systems such as its ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, fighter jets, and unmanned aerial vehicles with greater impunity.

In order to restore stability, Pakistan has two choices; firstly, in the long term, to purchase similar, albeit expensive missile defence systems from the international market – such as from Russia and/or China. A tall prospect which already seems difficult given the country’s economic difficulties. Secondly, to counter the Indian advanced air defence shield while staying within its existing doctrinal posture, it seems that the induction of an increased number of MIRV capable ballistic missiles appears as the more plausible and immediate solution.

It is worth mentioning here that Pakistan’s Ababeel Ballistic Missile, a medium-range ballistic missile, which it had tested in January 2017, is believed to have introduced MIRV technology into Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal with its reported range of 2200 kilometers. Pakistan’s rationale for achieving this milestone is widely believed to be inclined towards neutralizing a broad range of the expected outcomes of India’s military modernization drive, including the threat from its enhanced missile defence systems. This is further evident in the statements of Pakistan Military Officials, in which they have clearly stated that the development of the Ababeel weapon system is aimed at ensuring the survivability of Pakistan’s ballistic missiles ‘keeping in view the growing regional Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) environment’, hence further reinforcing nuclear deterrence.

In the same vein, there is widespread speculation that Pakistan’s recently tested short-range ballistic missile Ghaznavi – with its operational range of 290 kilometers – is also MIRV capable. No matter the validity of such speculation, there is still an ongoing debate questioning whether Pakistan needs to have such a short-range MIRV capable ballistic missile. Particularly keeping in view India’s counterforce designs which highlight an apparent shift towards nuclear counterforce and the notions of ‘splendid first strike’ and surgical strikes against Pakistan. A strategy that is, in turn, directly linked to its Air Defence modernization plans because such counterforce temptations might provoke Pakistani retaliation. Hence, the road-mobile Ghaznavi missile, based on its accuracy and, shorter range and flight times could thus be a prospective platform for being a MIRV capable delivery system aimed at penetrating the Indian Air Defence shield. Hence, for Pakistan, the provision of such short-range MIRV capable ballistic missiles like Ghaznavi would likely serve as a key deterrent against the Indian advanced air defence shield. 

At the present, Pakistan by being overtly threatened by the ruling BJP government still holds a principled stance in working towards bringing about lost peace and stability in the South Asian region. However, Indian aspirations as evident in its ambitious military modernization plans have compelled Pakistan to take all possible measures to assure its security and preserve its sovereignty. As such Pakistan may need to expand its strategy of playing its cards close to its chest particularly when taking into account India’s ongoing expansion of its Air Defence shield. In this regard, the induction and perhaps even testing of a medium to short-range MIRV capable missile seems to be the only way out, at least for the time being.     

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The Baltic States are Target Number One

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From 1 January 2020 security of the Baltic airspace is ensured by three Command and Reporting Centers designed for specific national airspace surveillance, based in Tallinn, Lielvarde, and Karmėlava, instead of one joint unit.

It is said that they enhance capabilities of NATO’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense System, regional interoperability, and reliability of protection of the Alliance airspace. On December 19 the new BALTNET (Baltic Air Surveillance Network and Control System) configuration and three national centers in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were inaugurated at a ceremony in Kaunas.

According to the Baltic States’ officials, three countries have moved from the defensive to offensive measures in order to provide their security and defence.
The more so, the three Baltic Allies have launched the cooperative project of the BALTNET future configuration to further enhance their contribution to NATO’s collective defence effort and architecture.

Major Pärn, senior Estonian officer at Baltic Control and Reporting Centre (CRC) Karmelava said that “a before-and-after comparison clearly shows that we are moving from peacetime construct with just one joint Baltic CRC to the crisis-and-conflict-capable architecture of three Control and Reporting Points, including back-up capabilities and clear responsibilities increasing support for Allies and enhancing our national skills in special fields such as surface-based air defense, integration of ground forces and intelligence.”

This sounds like a very proud statement to any who is not accustomed with the situation.
At the moment, the Armed Forces of the three states are deprived of modern air defense systems. The main reason for this, as Estonian Defence Minister Jüri Luik admitted, is the lack of money.

For example, the Estonian Armed Forces continue to use the Soviet 23mm Anti-aircraft Cannon ZU-23-2, despite the supply of other systems. Thus, Tallinn has been purchasing the Mistral portable air defense missile systems. In 2018, the Ministry of Defence of Estonia signed a contract with the European company MBDA for the supply of these systems. However, the Mistral missiles have a range of 6km only.

In the coming years, Lithuania will remain the only owner of medium-range air defense systems in the region. In 2017, the Lithuanian Air Force was set to procure NASAMS mid-range air defense systems for $ 122.4 million from Norway. The missile is able to hit targets at the range of up to 40 km and at the height of up to 14 km. However, NASAMS, developed in the early 1990s, can’t be named the most advanced air defense system.

Washington provides financial assistance to the Baltic States but the amount of funds allocated for the needs of air defense is small: as Luik previously reported, in 2020 Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia will receive a total of $ 50 million from the Pentagon’s budget.

Generally speaking, the United States is interested in developing the air defense system of the Baltic region, but is not ready to invest substantial financial resources in it. For this reason, Russia doesn’t consider BALTNET to be a serious threat.

At the same time, Russia is not going to tolerate the Baltic States’ attempts to enhance NATO military strength near its borders. Moscow considers these measures as demonstration of readiness to attack. Its reaction is unpredictable and the Baltic States with its population have become real targets. BALTNET will help to detect a threat, but will not defend. On the other hand, three Baltic States are the NATO’s shield, aimed to stop Russia in case of war. On the other hand, NATO, probably, could stop Russia in the Baltic States, but these countries in this case will cease to exist. They will be Target Number One with no chances.

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